Night Ranger Brings 35th Anniversary Tour to Hard Rock Live

Concert Preview

by

ASH NEWELL
  • Ash Newell
When it came time to deciding where to record a live album to mark their 35th anniversary, the guys in the hard rock outfit Night Ranger decided Chicago would make the perfect place.

They made the right call.

The boisterous crowd makes its presence known on the band’s new live album/DVD, 35 Years and a Night in Chicago.

The band brings its 35th anniversary tour to Hard Rock Live at the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 30.

Bassist Jack Blades says the group chose Chicago for its central location.

“We wanted to play a show in the middle of the country so fans from all over the country could come,” says Blades in a recent phone interview. “We packed it out and sold it out. It turned into a happening, and we recorded and filmed it and to me it really captures the spirit of what Night Ranger is like live. We’re basically a live band. That’s what we thrive on. That’s what we live for. We live for that stage, and our attitude is that you get up on the stage, and nobody is better than you. That crowd in Chicago was with us from the first note to the last. That’s what it’s all about. That’s good old-fashioned American kick ass rock 'n' roll. Case closed. And that’s the same thing that happens eveyr time we come to Cleveland.”

The seeds of the band were first planted in San Francisco in the late ’70s when Blades joined drummer Kelly Keagy and guitarist Brad Gillis in the hard rock trio Rubicon. Blades had moved to the Bay Area in 1975.

“The three of us stayed together and formed a short-lived club band called Stereo and played around the Bay Area,” he says. “In 1980, we formed Night Ranger and, shit, here we are 35 years later. The music scene in the Bay Area at that time was just great. There was live music everywhere you went. There were original bands, and you’d be at a club and see Carlos Santana or [Journey’s] Neil Schon. It was quite a scene. We would play the Palms on Polk Street, and Huey Lewis and his band would come and they would play. The club held like 80 people. It was a vibrant live music scene. It was absolutely great.”

The band’s 1982 debut, Dawn Patrol, was a hit out the gate as the album opener, the hard rocking “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” a tune that features fierce guitar solos that sound like they could be from a Van Halen song, became a smash.

“It was the last song we recorded,” says Blades when asked about the tune. “We needed one more song for the record, so I came up with that one. It just took off. What helped it out was that MTV was in its infancy at that time. We made a cheap video with a bunch of friends using stock footage of trains. We had two screaming guitar players playing great solos. MTV played it like 15 times a day. I think they only had 12 videos at the time. I think they really only had Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’ and some 38 Special song.”

When the band was on the road supporting Dawn Patrol, it found out that its record label had gone under. At that point, the band had sold close a million albums, so it quickly worked out a deal with MCA/Universal for its second album, Midnight Madness. That album delivered the epic power ballad, “Sister Christian.”

“We had written ‘Sister Christian’ for the first album, but it didn’t make it on for some reason, so we put that song on it,” says Blades, adding that the Midnight Madness’s first single was ‘You Can Still Rock in America." "We decided in March to release [‘Sister Christian’] for a summer time tour. It’s become the gift that keeps on giving. I am surprised and I’m not surprised at how it’s held up. Good songs are good songs. That’s something that Night Ranger has always focused on. It became the theme song in the collective consciousness of the country and a real iconic tune. When we start the song, people in the audience still go crazy. I feel like we’re playing it for the first time every time we play it because everyone is so into it.”

The song appears in a key scene in the cult classic film Boogie Nights. As a drug deal goes south, the song blasts from the dealer’s stereo. The guy even sings along and plays air guitar to it at one point.

“The scene was so realistic and so exactly like it was during that time period, it was too close for comfort,” says Blades. “It was the pivotal scene when that character bottoms out right there. Everyone was all tweaked out on coke and one guy was lighting firecrackers and the dealer has been up for three days. And then the song comes on — it’s pretty wild.”

Blades says the band has reached the point where it doesn't worry about getting a song on the radio or filling a venue. And he says that's a good thing.

“We don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” he says. “We just get up there and have fun with the audience and with everything. You get on stage and the lights go down and the crowd cheers and your brain doesn’t register the fact that you’ve been doing this for 35 years. I’ve had conversations with Ozzy [Osbourne] about this. It’s like you’re back to being 26 years old. Afterwards, you’re like, ‘Shit, why did I jump over that amplifier? My ankle is killing me.’ Your mind just goes back to the place it has always gone back to. It doesn’t register that you’re 50 or 60 years old.”

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